July 30 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview –US Secretary of State John Kerry has issued a cautious statement about Russia’s “humanitarian” declaration over besieged opposition areas of Syria’s largest city Aleppo. Kerry said on Friday that a Russian suggestion of “corridors” for civilians and disarmed rebels to flee to regime-controlled territory “could be a ruse”, but also that it “could have possibilities”.
On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu responding to the concerns, of UN officials and humanitarian organizations, that up to 400,000 people face a siege after pro-Assad forces cut the last road into opposition districts of Aleppo. He said residents could leave and rebels could surrender, as the Syrian military dropped leaflets over the area.
Activists say that Russia could be trying to “de-populate” the area in preparation for an all-out ground and aerial assault. They also note that previous initiatives — for example, in Syria’s third-largest city Homs — have led to the disappearance of men who have taken up the offer to leave.
The US and UN officials said on Thursday that they were not consulted about the Russian statement.
Risk and Possibilities
Asked about the Russian operation on Friday, Kerry said:
It has the risk, if it is a ruse, of completely breaking apart the level of cooperation.
On the other hand, if we’re able to work it out today and have a complete understanding of what is happening and then agreement on the way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities.
The Secretary of State said he had spoken with Moscow twice in the past 24 hours to try to clarify Russian intentions.
State Department spokesman John Kirby later stepped back from Kerry’s “possibilities”:
There should be no need for them if the cessation of hostilities is being enforced and observed in and around Aleppo. People should not have to be told to leave or given the impression that there is some sort of forced evacuation. They should be able to stay in their homes peacefully because they’re not at risk by regime forces.
The White House also voiced doubts. “Given their record on this, we’re skeptical, to say the least,” spokesman Eric Schultz said at a news briefing.
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said there was “urgent need for improvement” in the plan, but that Moscow appeared to be open to suggestion.
A Propaganda Stunt?
Russian and Syrian State media are proclaiming that the corridors have been established with reception centers, providing food and medical care. They add the claim that rebels are preventing civilians from leaving — a line which has been used in other cases such as Homs and the town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus.
Local activists and journalists note that the supposed safe “corridors” do not yet exist.
Ghaith Yaqout al-Murjan, an activist in Aleppo, explained: But] you are talking about the need to walk a kilometer in a battle where you are at risk of being hit from two sides.
The pro-opposition Eldorar said two young men have already been shot and killed as they tried to reach the supposed humanitarian crossings.
Meanwhile, the opposition High Negotiations Committee warned of the de-population plan. Basma Kodmani said:
The world must not allow Russia to get away with disguising its assault on Aleppo with deceitful talk about humanitarian ‘corridors.’ Be clear — these “corridors” are not for getting aid in, but driving people out. The brutal message to our people is “leave or starve.
US officials add support for the concern that the Assad regime is seeking to detain or even execute the men of the area, “as Assad and his father have done repeatedly at least since 1982”.
“Why would you evacuate a city that you wanted to send humanitarian aid to?” asked an official.